Labelling, healthy eating and ending waste


I was reading an article by David Aaronvitch in The Guardian called “The stomach for it”.

It’s about his experience of a fat camp in America.

It’s a great read, of course, it’s by David Aaronovitch

But it included one sentence about the fat club’s approach to healthy eating which made me really angry.  I mean I understand it, I kind of live it myself, it makes sense, but it’s just utterly, poetically impractical:

“If you pick up any food and it has a label on it, put it back.”

This one sentence connects all the issues that are so very topical now about plastic, packaging, pollution and public health.

What do we do about labelling and healthy eating? 

We work with clients in the food, packaging and waste management sectors.  We’re totally immersed in the whole food cycle from fork to field, to refuse-derived fuel.

We need packaging

I watched Blue Planet, we all watched Blue Planet.  We know we must end pollution of the seas, of every part of our planet.  But ending packaging isn’t the answer as we must also feed 7.6  billion people on our planet.

Three important facts

  • 50 per cent of vegetables and fruits in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America are wasted before even reaching our homes.
  • Per capita food waste by consumers in Europe and North-America is 95-115 kg/year.
  • Per capita food waste by consumers in sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia is only 6-11 kg/year.

Source: Food & Agricultural Organisation of the UN (FAO)

We need labels

We simply can’t afford to go back to a state where all our food is unwrapped and unprotected.  Far too much will be wasted.  Contamination, bruising, squashing, exposure etc. The possibilities are endless!

So it must be packaged in some way, and therefore it needs a label.

Innovation saves waste

Tata Steel has invented the most wonderful mobile canning line, that can (pun intended) massively reduce food waste.

It will play a big part in lowering the percentage of food which is wasted at farming source.

Watch the video:

Imagine a can without a label.   Dog food, tuna, beans or peaches? Last year or ten years ago? We must have labels. I’m using a can to make the point but it applies to any packaging medium.  Is that gin, water or what in that bottle?

Four things we need to end food waste

1. Education

For the label to work we must have education, so that people can read the label and relate it to themselves.

People need to have the knowledge to understand what the facts mean, so that they can make healthy informed choices about what they eat.

Food label, healthy eating

2. Communication

Understanding the food facts is one aspect of communication,  as it relates to healthy eating.  The other aspect of communication is about food and packaging waste.

For the label and packaging to be recycled properly we need innovation and application. There are lots of wonderful innovations in the food chain, for example, Anaerobic Digestion (AD)  for food waste or bio bean technology to convert coffee grounds into solid log fuel

3. Engagement

We need to communicate to people the role they can play in enabling this innovation work. Waste coffee grounds can only be transformed into biofuel if they are collected separately from other food streams. Cardboard can only be recycled if it is dry and clean. Food can only be used in AD if it is collected separately.

Yes, it’s obvious common sense, but you have to tell people to get even this basic message across, and that clearly isn’t happening enough at the moment.

It takes communication and engagement to make recycling work.  That’s why the best waste management companies like our client Cawleys are hugely focussed on communication campaigns

4. Common sense

And the final ingredient must be common sense.  Full marks to Waitrose for ending black plastic in its packaging because black as a colour can’t be detected by infrared waste sorting machines.

Yes, these are incredibly basic, obvious facts but in the drive to eat sensibly and end waste we are forgetting common sense.

If we want to sweep away the tides of waste in our oceans, we mustn’t get swept away in a sea of anger.  We must use our common sense to communicate well.

We need good, intelligent PR


From Black Friday to going green: E-commerce v. traditional retail

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With Black Friday, Cyber Monday and a weekend of gift-buying, deal-grabbing, elbow-shopping chaos over, we started to think about think about how the environment bears in all this (it is one of our sectors, after all). The battle between traditional retail and online shopping in driving sales is ongoing but we wanted to know which is greener, and how can a consumer, who wants to shop in the most environmentally-friendly way, tell?

Online heavy weights like Amazon are quick to boast about the environmental benefits of e-commerce, stating on their website ‘Online shopping is inherently more environmentally-friendly than traditional retailing.’ But can the reality be quite this black-and-white? This might be a great strapline that hooks in ‘green’ shoppers, but as quite research-based PRs, we want to know if this can be backed up!

Retail v e-commerce processes

Retail carbon footprints are generated from a range of processes, from IT infrastructure to vehicle emissions and packaging. It’s difficult then, to measure the eco-impact of each scenario for every consumer purchase, as the factors can vary so much from product to product, even in a single retailer.

Overall though, purchasing online should bypass travel to and from physical brick-and-mortar shops, and thus reduce greenhouse gas emissions and yield a lower carbon footprint, unless this journey was taken entirely on foot or by bicycle. This, I suppose, is the black-and-white answer Amazon would give.E-commerce

Consumer habit

Consumer habit, however, can also impact on the eco-friendliness of the purchase, and the route to this purchase in today’s world is rarely direct due to the multitude of options. For example, if you drive to a shop, buy something, change your mind and return it, carbon emissions will be higher you making a double trip to that shop. Modern delivery methods, like Amazon Prime, which offer next day delivery, and more recently just one or two-hour delivery options, also pose a significant toll on the environment. These quick options make it more difficult for delivery companies to combine shipments to the same area, so the distance driven per item increases, as does the carbon footprint.

Similarly, if you see something in-store, then choose to buy it online, this can offset any deductions related to the final e-commerce purchase. Failed delivery or click-and-collect have the same effect.

A green outcome?

So we haven’t really got an answer for which option is greener for the environmentally concerned shopper. Thinking about buying from companies you know to be environmentally-friendly and responsible, opting for eco-friendly packaging (or as little as possible) and if you’re buying online, buying in advance and not choosing short delivery times, all add up to a greener way of shopping.

For anyone in the retail sector, including Amazon, it’s vital to specify to consumers what steps you’re taking to be a green option. Communicating this clearly is key: Consumers know what’s important to them when they purchase but they need the full facts from you. If you’re looking to do this, to communicate and show your environmental merit and what it means as a retailer and for the planet, we know just the team for the job…!

Thanks JCrew, but I’d happily pay not to use your bags

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First and foremost packaging should be fit for purpose 

Like most formerly metrosexual, formerly in London, and formerly young PR-men, I now source my wardrobe online – well pretty much anyway.

Except, that is, when I find myself in the West End with an unexpected couple of hours to kill, as happened last week. So brace yourselves Covent Garden, Regent Street and Oxford Street, here I come.

First stop Nigel Hall in Floral Street and a cheeky scarf. Ready-wrapped in clear plastic, it goes straight in to the rucksack, no messing. Yes, you did read that correctly, that’s a rucksack. I commute.

Next stop Regent Street, to JCrew, and a nifty pair of jeans. I like JCrew and this made a welcome change from its online service which inexplicably ships UK deliveries from a depot somewhere in the deepest US – no next day delivery here – and don’t get me going on the company’s absurdly overly complicated online returns process either.

Still, back to the jeans which, as my mother always reminded me, were the original workers’ clothing and never worth the vastly inflated prices she paid to keep her chippy middle child happy. Now, at £125 a pair, I accept she had a point, and perhaps at that price even jeans have earned the right to be delicately wrapped in several layers of the finest tissue paper and placed gently, reverently even, in a carrier bag.

I say carrier bag, but this was not of the 5p from Sainsbury’s variety; more a thick, rigid, card version finished with contrasting black ‘tape’ handles. Smart, yes, but hideously awkward to carry, the shallow but wide design, gaping mouth and over-long handles had it twisting all over the show. And so a distress purchase in Gap, revered by most for its basic tee shirts, but by me for its totally practical carrier bags!

Gap carriers are a known quantity. Made of thin plastic, light and flexible, they have a draw string akin to the old fashioned, homemade plimsoll bags we had at school (only ours were made from old curtains or an ancient bedspread.) But fit for purpose they undoubtedly were, nothing fell out, nothing could be taken from them, and they were easy to carry. So into Gap version went the T shirt – and sorry JCrew, the jeans too – and full marks to the sympathetic Gap assistant who disposed of the rejected JCrew bag behind the counter.

There is a tendency for shops to put purchases in a bag at least ten times bigger than the item bought. I had to buy an emergency bow tie in Paul Smith recently (that’s another story) but yes, you guessed it, into a full size carrier bag it went.

Clearly retailers like us to parade their branding like sandwich boards. Or maybe they think that we want to flaunt our brands associations to everyone else. On the other hand, it may be just a cost thing. Is it cheaper to produce a one-size-fits-all carrier bag than it is to manufacture a range of sizes which can be selected according to the purchase?

Whatever the reason, for me an inconvenient bag is a packaging faux pas. I’m a fairly low key kind of guy and I hate walking down the street laden, Ab Fab-like, with out-sized carrier bags. Packaging first and foremost should be ‘fit for purpose’.

So what’s the answer? Well from here on I’m rejecting all extreme carrier bags and excessive packaging. And if my rucksack can’t cope, I’ll have a handy rolled-up 5p supermarket option in my coat pocket.

The supermarkets have got it right – fit for purpose bags that customers will pay for – and keep. Sorry Paul and JCrew, but I’d happily pay not to use your bags!